Higher Education Marketing in the Republic of Ireland

In Education by Tom Cannon

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World-renowned culture, a strong academic track record and a government with a higher education focus; it is little wonder the Republic of Ireland is fast becoming a popular higher education destination. And that’s before you mention Guinness.

In recent years higher education in the country has enjoyed significant growth, evolving from a system largely limited to a privileged few to one of widespread participation.  Studies have confirmed that growth in this sector has had a ‘significant economic impact’ on the country. A rich culture of research is crucial for national development and as such the Irish Government invests over €782 million each year in higher education. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Irish Universities are in the top 1% of research institutions globally in terms of research impact in 19 different fields.

As a result, entry into third-level education in the Republic of Ireland is incredibly high. Statistics reveal that 51.1% of 30-34-year-olds have a degree; much higher than the EU average of 35.8%. In fact, The Republic of Ireland has the highest proportion of young people who have successfully completed third-level education in the whole of the EU.

Expert Opinions: University College Cork & The National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway)

To find out how HE marketing works in The Republic of Ireland, we spoke with Nancy Hawkes, Editor-in-Chief of the Office of Marketing and Communications at University College Cork and Michelle Ní Chróinín, Press and Information Officer at NUI Galway.

University College Cork

UCCLast year the university was named Irish university of the year by the Sunday Times. It’s the fifth time University College Cork has been named Ireland’s top university having won the title in 2003, 2005, 2011, 2015 and again in 2016. Incredibly, it’s the only time since the award was established in 2002 that a university has successfully defended its crown.

According to the Sunday Times it is the institutions dedication to teaching as well as research that makes it a winner. That’s not to say that research takes a backseat; there has been a 15% increase in research funding over the last five years. The result is the second highest amount of research income in Ireland per head of academic staff at around €128,000. UCC also enjoys the highest level of academic staff with a qualification in teaching (70%) and it is also the first university in Ireland to create and implement an online programme in teaching and learning for staff.

NUI Galway

NUI GalwayFounded in 1845 NUI Galway now enjoys international recognition as a research-led university with a focus on quality teaching. Just recently the university has climbed six places in the QS World University Ranking and is now 243 in the world. This is the fifth year in a row the university has risen in the international rankings cementing its already solid academic reputation further.

The university is home to around 600 researchers working in areas as diverse as robotics to failing hearts. Four researchers have recently been named among the World’s Most Highly Cited Researchers in an analysis by Clarivite. And all of this is good news in terms of attracting students in an increasingly competitive market. President of NUI Galway, Dr Jim Browne, recently said: “Amidst speculation on the impact of Brexit on Irish institutions, we’ve seen an 11% increase on applications from Northern Ireland and Great Britain this year.”

Marketing challenges

arrows-marketing challengesYet despite the prestige and accolades both universities hold, they– like every university – will experience its own set of marketing challenges. Some of these issues affect universities equally; take rising student expectations and increasing competition from emerging economies as an example. But we wanted to find out if there were any specific marketing challenges institutions in the Republic of Ireland faced. First up? Location. Or more accurately, a pervasive lack of general geographic knowledge!

“One of the main challenges of marketing UCC in an international arena is that we have to familiarise potential students with where Ireland is on the map,” says Nancy. One solution is to take a collaborative approach to marketing. “There is plenty of scope to market the ‘island of Ireland’, encompassing the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This would be very advantageous particularly for marketing to an international audience. A joined-up, collaborative effort could help clear this hurdle.”

But that is small fry when it comes to the main challenge of universities in the Republic of Ireland. Nancy told us: “In the Irish context, the biggest challenge over the past number of years has been the effect of the global recession. Ireland has felt the effects of austerity measures to offset the crisis more than most, with deep cuts to budgets for higher education.”

But nonetheless, UCC has focused on addressing this budgetary challenge over the last few years with success. “These cuts have led UCC to become ever more resourceful in seeking out alternative income streams, particularly in the area of research funding. A vibrant, active and well-funded research community makes UCC an attractive proposition for academics and gives UCC an important edge when it comes to attracting students at postgraduate level too,” says Nancy.

trinity-collegeA report looking into the national strategy for higher education found that compared to other countries, Ireland is actually very efficient in its use of resources and produces graduates for lower than average costs without sacrificing quality. The challenge, the report states, is continuing to create maximum learning opportunities from available resources as demand increases over time.

Michelle highlighted the importance of selling the ‘uniqueness’ in an increasingly crowded market: “Students are lucky to have a number of alternatives in Ireland to receive an internationally recognised education, so the challenge is to highlight the uniqueness of the culture here and show prospective students that not only will NUI Galway prepare them for their future, but we will provide a fantastic experience during their studies.

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The decision to go to a particular university is a major moment in most students’ lives so it’s vital that we show what life in NUI Galway is like, not just highlighting the educational experience in a World Top 250 University, but also all of the other fantastic opportunities –  from Ireland’s top University for volunteering to sports to entrepreneurial supports for students with a business idea.”

Increasingly, Michelle has found that a focus on digital channels is crucial in attracting prospective students: “Our website and social media channels have been particularly good at assisting us in highlighting the student experience and innovation here.  In the past two years our following on Facebook and Twitter has grown by over 60% and the challenge is to cut through and reach our audience on platforms where they are bombarded with information.  We’ve found research stories, from jellyfish stings to maths equations that will enable you to build Batman’s cape really engage our audience, in addition to stories from our campus.”

International Recruitment and Markets  

StampsAnother challenge lies in the increasingly global nature of higher education. Indeed Harvard President Drew Faust highlighted this back in 2010: “In a digital age, ideas and aspirations respect few boundaries. The new knowledge economy is necessarily global and the reach of universities must be so as well”. Given the global context of this challenge, it is an important consideration wherever the location of the university.

We’ve written about the importance of encouraging international students and no doubt this is well known in Ireland where the number of international students has risen by more than 25% since 2012 meaning they now make up around 8.8% of the student population. A report looking into the international education strategy in Ireland discusses the many reasons this is important, not least because the International Education is worth around €1.58bn per annum to the Irish economy. The aim for 2020 is €2.1bn.

The message is clear: Universities in Republic of Ireland need to encourage more international students. And that is certainly being heard at UCC and NUI Galway.

“Galway City is the most international place in Ireland with one in five people born outside of Ireland, and NUI Galway is home to over 3,000 international students from over 100 countries.  We benefit from being such a vibrant and diverse community and have been ranked as one of the Top 200 universities globally for our international outlook,” says Michelle.

“UCC has an excellent track record in recruiting international students. One of the important factors in being named Sunday Times University of the Year 2017 is the holistic approach to staff and students, both Irish born and international,” says Nancy.

One of the reasons UCC is popular with international students is its friendly environment and focus on safety.  “UCC is one of the safest campuses in the world and also the world’s first ‘Green Campus’. Living in a safe, friendly, green environment and studying in a university that is diverse and inclusive, makes UCC a great option for people looking to study away from their country of origin,” says Nancy.

UCC also boasts a 93% employment rate for graduates and offers a ‘stay back’ option for graduates from outside EU and EAA. This allows such graduates to stay in the country for 2 years to seek employment. It is obviously working as the UCC International Office was one of only 14 universities to receive an Outstanding International Student Satisfaction 2016 award. In fact Ireland as a whole did pretty well at the awards and was ranked as the second most satisfactory country by international students in Europe.

But when it comes to recruiting specific markets, where do you start? UCC has two local recruitment offices based outside of Ireland. “In terms of our specific markets, UCC has always had a strong track record in recruiting students from the US and China and we have local recruitment offices in New York City and Beijing. We also attract students from Europe who study in UCC as part of the ERASMUS scheme. This scheme benefits Irish citizens who get to study outside Ireland – everyone wins,” says Nancy.

Beyond Brexit

Balloon UKSo what does the future hold? We asked what impact Brexit could have on higher education in The Republic of Ireland. And while of course there is uncertainty, there is also opportunity. “Although the consequences of ‘Brexit’ are still unknown, it has resulted in greater uncertainty in international markets. However, it may well present opportunities for Ireland, including the prospect of being the only European country who speak and do business in English as the main language (Irish is the official language),” says Nancy.

Michelle told us: “We have always welcomed significant numbers of students from Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and our hope is for a smooth transition that enables those strong links to continue to develop. There are a number of collaborations and partnerships already in existence which enable us to achieve economies of scale in knowledge dissemination, graduate training and international benchmarking. Collaboration is a cornerstone of work in the University in many areas, particularly when it comes to research projects and careers services. There is scope for partnership and collaboration in further marketing activities through parameters where each institution is enabled to highlight its unique strengths.”

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We research in the Republic of Ireland

We can help with your market research needs. Want to understand your brand, course development, new markets or international recruitment strategy let us know!

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